Thursday, June 11, 2015

Brightening the Chain

This week my family attended the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church at the Peoria Civic Center. It's part business meeting, part worship, part reunion for the clergy and laity of the IGRC. For pastors, this is their church. They support and encourage each other and have a chance to listen and absorb sermons and speakers instead of preparing them. 

The theme of Annual Conference this year was Healing the Circle: Godly Sorrow Brings Repentance. We listened to the hard truths of what was done to American Indians, often in the name of God, historically and in present-day. And as is often the case when discussing painful things, I found myself squirming in my seat as the speakers told of unimaginable things done to native peoples in the name of westward expansion and progress. 

Rev. Fred Neeake Shaw, a retired UMC pastor from Ohio and co-chair of the North Central Jurisdictional Committee on Native American Ministries, spoke first. He called our attention to circles: all things are equal when you stand in a circle. The most important things in life are circles: hugs, families, stars, the Earth. Repentance is a circle, too--between us and God. True repentance means we go in a different direction out of love and caring for those we've hurt. 

Rev. Shaw introduced the metaphor of "brightening the chain". Native Americans recognized that European chains were stronger than ropes, but that they needed to be repaired and polished periodically. So, too, is our relationship with God and one another. He reminded us that those sitting in the pews of our churches today are the link between the saints that have gone before and the ones to come. Rev. Shaw implored us to not be the link of the chain that breaks.

Rev. Dr. Thin White Wolf Fassett, emeritus General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, spoke the following day. He reminded us of our interconnectedness to each other and to the natural world. He stated that "history is theology", but that we don't often talk about those connections.

Rev. Fassett discussed repentance not as something we talk about, but something we do. It's not sexy or fun, but it's critical to healing and reuniting the circle. 

This year, the IGRC had some difficult legislation to tackle. Perhaps the most heartbreaking decision made was to sell three camps owned by the conference and put the profits toward updating and promoting the two remaining camps. Many clergy and laity owe their spiritual lives to such camps. To sacrifice one camp to save another is an enormously emotional decision, but it's also a real-life example of "brightening the chain". 

At church camp we train our children to see our interconnectedness to each other and to nature, but our camping ministry is suffering. In order to save it, broken links have been removed. The remaining links will be polished and put in place, hopefully for many years to come. 

The vote was not easy or fun, and when the legislation passed there was no celebration. A season of repentance will need to occur to heal the circle between us, God, our camping ministry leaders, and our campers. Only then can we move forward. 

The United Methodist church is in a season of uncertainty and division, but I know I don't want to be the chain that broke. My link in the chain of God's family holds together generations of believers. Though I may be rusty or barely holding on, I will continue to keep linking arms. That doesn't mean there won't be hard decisions or mistakes or repentance, but I won't stop trying to hold the circle together. 

In what areas of your life do you need to "brighten the chain"? Where do you need to heal the circle?

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